Fatty liver disease, or steatosis, typically has no initial symptoms.
While there are no specific treatments for fatty liver disease or steatosis, diet and lifestyle changes are the most effective ways to manage the condition.
There are two types of fatty liver disease: alcoholic, which is caused by heavy alcohol consumption, and nonalcoholic, which is unrelated to alcohol consumption.
10 diet and lifestyle tips to reverse fatty liver disease
1. Lose weight.
Losing even 7%-10% of body weight can improve symptoms of fatty liver disease by reducing inflammation and preventing further fat accumulation. Go slow and steady and make healthy food choices while limiting your portions.
2. Stay physically active.
Get moderate exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Take a brisk walk or try strength training exercises — anything to get your body moving.
3. Try the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating plant-based foods and healthy fats, which can help reduce fat in the liver:
- Fruits such as apples, berries, oranges, melons, figs, and bananas
- Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, leafy greens, and peppers
- Legumes such as pulses, beans, lentils, and peas
- Seafood and lean proteins such as fish, chicken, and eggs
- Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, wheat bread, and pasta
- Good fats such as nuts, olive oil, whole olives, and avocados
4. Eat more antioxidants.
Antioxidants prevent cellular damage, which in turn prevents fat accumulation in the liver. You can get antioxidants from the following:
- Coffee (preferably black coffee with no added sugar)
- Green tea
- Sunflower seeds
- Raw garlic
5. Increase your intake of vitamins and minerals.
Essential vitamins and minerals can help reduce inflammation associated with NAFLD. Examples include:
- Vitamin D from sunlight exposure and low-fat dairy products
- Potassium from sources such as salmon, sardines, broccoli, sweet potatoes, kiwi, and apricots
- Vitamin E from plant-based oils, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables
6. Avoid added sugars.
Avoid foods containing added sugars such as ice cream, full-fat milk, soft drinks, cakes, candies, and flavored yogurt.
7. Include omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.
Food sources are fish oil, walnuts, and flaxseeds. You can also try an omega-3 fatty acid supplement that can help reduce cholesterol levels
8. Limit alcohol intake.
Quitting or limiting the intake of alcohol can prevent further deterioration of the liver.
9. Control medical conditions.
Keeping related medical conditions in check can help improve fatty liver disease:
- Diabetes: Control your sugar levels by eating low-glycemic index foods, exercising regularly, and taking prescribed medications.
- Cholesterol: Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, salty, oily and processed foods, and white bread and pasta.
- Hypertension: Maintain your blood pressure levels with a plant-based diet and active lifestyle.
10. Avoid taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
Consult your doctor before taking OTC medications, vitamins, or mineral supplements, as they may put extra stress on an already damaged liver.
What causes fatty liver disease?
Fatty liver disease is caused by fat accumulation in the liver. While the exact cause of this is unknown, the condition is often associated with the following:
- Type II diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome (high triglycerides, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, and low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol)
- Insulin resistance
- Drugs such as corticosteroids
Some experts speculate that fat accumulation in the liver may the result of
- absorption of excess fat from the intestines;
- excess glucose in the blood, which is turned into fat by the liver; and the
- inability of the liver to change fats into a form that can be eliminated from the body.
What are the signs and symptoms of fatty liver disease?
Most people have no symptoms or signs in the initial stages. However, as the disease progresses, it may cause the following signs and symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Sense of fullness and discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
- Edema (swelling of the legs)
- Weakness or tiredness
How do medical professionals diagnose fatty liver disease?
Diagnosis of fatty liver disease is made via:
- Medical history: Your doctor will take your medical history to help rule out other conditions.
- Physical examination: Your doctor will check your weight and height to calculate your body mass index, look for signs of jaundice, and palpate to assess whether there is an enlarged liver.
- Blood test for liver enzymes: Elevated liver enzymes are a sign of liver damage.
- Ultrasonography: This helps provide a clear picture of the liver and allows your doctor to evaluate the extent and stage of liver disease.
- Liver biopsy: In some cases, a liver tissue sample may be analyzed to determine the disease progression.
Long-term heavy alcohol consumption can cause:
What are complications of fatty liver disease?
Your liver is the largest essential organ of the body with multiple functions including the following:
- Bile production (necessary for proper digestion)
- Absorbing nutrients from food and converting it into energy
- Protein synthesis (necessary for cell structure and function)
- Storage of vitamins and minerals such as iron and copper
- Vitamin K storage (essential in the blood clotting process)
- Filtration of harmful substances from the body
- Drug metabolism
If left untreated, fatty liver disease can lead to the following complications:
- Liver fibrosis (inflammation and liver cell damage) and eventual liver dysfunction
- Scarring of the liver
- Cirrhosis (late-stage liver disease characterized by fibrous thickening of liver tissues)
- Liver cancer
Medically Reviewed on 4/20/2022
Image Source: iStock Images
Fatty Liver Disease. Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15831-fatty-liver-disease
Fatty Liver Disease. MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/fattyliverdisease.html
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) & NASH. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/nafld-nash